The use of enterprise social media tools to boost collaboration has been touted for several years, and there are numerous offerings on the market from firms such as Huddle, Jive and Yammer.
The rise of such services all owe something of a debt of gratitude to Facebook, which turned the world of social media from something done by teenagers on sites like MySpace into a billion-strong user community.
So it came as no surprise when Facebook unveiled its own enterprise platform, the simply named Facebook at Work, to capitalise on the growing number of firms wanting to use social media tools to boost collaboration among employees.
Facebook at Work offers all the usual features found on Facebook, such as news feeds, groups, events, messaging and so on, but hosted in a closed environment that only employees of the firm using the tool can access (see below).
Some 10 months after the launch, Facebook has scored arguably its biggest customer win after banking giant RBS signed a deal to roll out Facebook at Work to 100,000 employees across the globe.
The size of the deal underlines how even the most regulated and established businesses in sectors like banking are looking for new, digital ways of working.
Kevin Hanley, director of design at RBS, told V3 that the bank had been trialling the tool for around three months and it is already delivering clear benefits by improving information flows.
"The early evidence is that people are using it as a tool to solve problems and tap into the wisdom of the organisation, so they can pose questions and seek answers," he said.
Hanley added that email, the traditional way people share information and pose questions, often suffers because it is hard to reach the right people but that social tools have a more organic nature.
Furthermore, he said that uptake of the service was as high as 90 percent among those given access to Facebook at Work, which he attributed, in part, to the fact that staff know instantly how to the use the service.
"The familiarity and ease of use means there is a no learning curve, because if you’re familiar with Facebook in your personal life Facebook at Work is no different,” he said.
Hanley added that this had proved a stumbling block in the past when attempting to provide staff with social collaboration tools, but that this had not been an issue this time around.
Other key benefits of Facebook at Work that attracted RBS are the mobile capabilities of the platform and Facebook's strong development focus, as Hanley explained.
"The ability to access Facebook at Work on your mobile is another obvious benefit, because you're not tied to a desktop application so you contribute when, where and how you want," he said.
"Another thing we liked was the pace of innovation around Facebook at Work, because their ability to add functionality, improve the tool and so on is something we can tap into."
One of the obvious problems when choosing any platform for social sharing is security. This is especially the case when Facebook is involved, as the site has often been criticised for its unclear privacy settings.
Indeed, when Facebook at Work was first announced, Jeff Mann, vice president of research at Gartner, told V3 that he thought the stigma around Facebook's privacy could put some firms off.
"I think the biggest [challenge] is going to be Facebook's reputation, because enterprises and security managers think of Facebook as the problem rather than the solution," said Mann.
However, the fact that Facebook at Work has been able to get the green light from RBS, which has strict risk and compliance requirements, should prove a major feather in its cap and a reference for other firms with security questions.
Hanley also gave some interesting insight into the ways in which an organisation the size of RBS manages the testing of new technologies.
“Whenever we do a proof-of-concept or a pilot we have to satisfy three criteria. The first is if we can technically handle the service so it will work and is safe and reliable," he said.
"The second is to engage the necessary stakeholders like risk and compliance so they are part of the pilot and comfortable with what we're doing. The third is to engage the user community so they get access to the tool and are able to use it in the way we believe will deliver the benefits we think it will."
Now that RBS is going ahead with the huge 100,000-user rollout Hanley said the next job is to manage this and put a schedule in place over the next 12-15 months to get it to everyone across the business.
"We will have to do some thinking about the order in which we do that, whether it's most logical to do it by team, geography or function," he said.
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